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Declan McKenna - What Do You Think About the Car? (Album Review)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017 Written by Jacob Brookman

Declan McKenna’s debut, ‘What Do You Think About the Car?’, is a handsome collection of songs, written with precocious energy and produced with expertise. The latter duties fall mostly to Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, but there is also help from producer du jour, Rostam Batmanglij, who pitches in on Listen to Your Friends.

Standout tracks include Brazil, which is a fun, swaggering alt-pop cut that showcases McKenna’s hook-writing ability alongside convincing, if off-the-shelf, indie boy vocals directly in the sweet spot between Robert Smith and Alex Turner.

The song itself is a treatise on the corruption at world football’s governing body, FIFA, and McKenna’s ability to tackle current affairs is probably the best thing about his first outing.

On Bethlehem he talks about how religion is used to justify hate crimes, while Isombard is a fabulous song about a US newsreader’s misinterpretation of the story he is trying to tell. Its spiky synth tones recall Dave Greenfield’s work with the Stranglers and have a primitive, punky quality that underscore shamelessly literate lyrics.

The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home is probably the album’s most ambitious song, though. It’s a “rally against the widespread assumption that the younger generation are self-obsessed and merely glued to their mobile phones”, and the lyrics are beautifully direct: “Haven't you any shame? / Have you got no morals? / Teaching them how to aim / No sadness and no sorrow.”

While its effect stops short of the absolute lift off achieved by fellow debutants Blaenavon on their own indie epic Alice Come Home, McKenna’s lyrics are more interesting, demanding and urgent. They convey a tangible sense of hope at a time when the UK feels hopelessly divided.

That said, the album doesn’t quite amaze. Tracks like Mind, Humongous and I Am Everyone Else could all be uncharitably placed in the bracket marked ‘landfill indie’, and the overall sound of the album lacks any notable drive for originality. It’s easy to forget just how strange and unusual Oasis, the Libertines and Arctic Monkeys actually sounded when they first arrived. ‘What You Do You Think About The Car?’ is many things, but it’s not groundbreaking. The shame is that it probably could have been.

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